To honor Woman's History Month, it only feels right to dive into the amazing wordsmith Rapsody's stunning 2019 album 'EVE'. One of the most wholesome musical works to be released recently, a beautiful homage and a love letter to Black women throughout history. Providing that the content of this album is also part of Cultural Studies Curriculum's and Syllabi in multiple universities in the States in itself only further underlines its importance in today's world. Join the celebration with a proper deep dive below.
Rapsody to me embodies what real rap should look and feel like in this day and age, using her wit, playfulness in use of metaphors, and the wordplay to spread compassion, love and positivity. She has been restoring my faith in rap as an artform with her steady lyrical excellence, tastefully chosen beats from some of my favorite beatmakers and simply her stance of refusing to be objectified as a woman in this MC game. Studying her music gave me a lot personally so maybe I can try to pass some of the love along in here, at this special occasion.
First and foremost, let's start with a proper introduction of the Master of Ceremonies.
Marlanna Evans, better known as Rapsody, is an American rapper from Snow Hill, North Carolina. Her artistic mantra is “Culture Over Everything”, meaning she really stays faithful to the core values of hip-hop culture, respecting it and preserving it. Inspiring people to get busy, to love themselves, live their purpose, follow their dreams, to be confident in themselves, to know they are beautiful, to know they are loved. Recognize their true power. And she is leading by example.
Marlanna grew up in a rural area as the youngest girl in the family, surrounded by boys, listening to 90’s “golden era” rap. She was especially touched by music from emcees like MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, Bahamadia, Mos Def, Jay-Z, and The Fugees, which inspired her to pursue a career in rap herself. She became a member of the Kooley High collective during NCU University in Raleigh where she got a degree in accounting. Being a part of this collective inspired her to take her rhyming seriously. In 2008, she embarked on her solo career by signing to 9th Wonder’s label It’s A Wonderful World Music Group a.k.a. Jamla Records and she has been slowly, but steadily establishing herself as one of the best emcees of this generation. Few years working on cadence, delivery, playing with her voice, letting the beat breathe, mastering the science of rhyming by studying the greats like Snoop, ATCQ… All under 9th Wonder’s mentorship and guidance.
I feel it’s important to say here that 9th Wonder as a record producer and legendary beatmaker is only one side of the story. 9th is also a well established educator, and hip-hop professor, teaching at multiple universities across the United States, Duke University and Harvard amongst others. He's also an honorary member of the Executive Committee of Hip-Hop and Rap at the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian, Washington D.C. All of this and more makes him the ultimate mentor for Rapsody that is able to properly help her push forward, guide her through on this path she has chosen and help her see the light. Extremely important for an artist to stay motivated and become a well-rounded player in the music industry game.
She proceeded with the release of her first breakthrough mixtape The Return of the B-Girl in 2010, collaborating with the legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier and featuring guest emcees such as Big Daddy Kane and Mac Miller. Her storytelling abilities were showcased further on her next 2011 mixtapes Thank H.E.R. Now (H.E.R. standing for Hearing Every Rhyme) and For Everything. Her debut studio album The Idea of Beautiful, produced by The Soul Council (production collective around 9th Wonder) dropped in 2012, receiving rave reviews.
So basically, in just a short time period, Rapsody has collaborated and toured with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper and Erykah Badu, among other greats. When the International Jazz Fest was taking place at the White House, President Barack Obama and Herbie Hancock invited Rapsody to grace the stage alongside Aretha Franklin, Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin and Terri Lyne Carrington in honor of the great legend, Prince. She was also one of the only featured rap artist on Kendrick Lamars’ critically acclaimed To Pimp A Butterfly album in 2015, which can easily be considered by many an album of the decade (also won 5 Grammys).
The next big milestone in Rapsodys’ career was signing a record deal with Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation in 2016. There’s a little back story to go with that analogy. So in 2011, Rapsody did this song on her debut album called ‘Destiny’. The opening bar of the song goes:
“I wanna meet Jay and just play a rhyme for him, I see him spitting Heineken, like “Girl, rhyme again!””
Fast forward 6 years later and there’s a Roc Nation deal on the table. Talk about manifestation and speaking things into existence... For this to come into fruition is definitely a game-changing moment in her story and career, Jay Z being one of her biggest heroes, acknowledging her skills as an MC and label owner, offering a deal.
“Partnering with Roc Nation was the best thing we could have done. Def Jam has been really supportive, but then that’s the culture Jay Z has created. We walked in with the album 90 percent done and they were just like ‘we love it’. They’re not the type of label to want you to change things for radio or whatever. It was like… ‘Tell us how we can help.” Rapsody said in 2018 on an INDEPENDENT.UK after-Grammy INTERVIEW by Roisin O’Connor.
In 2018, she was nominated for 2 Grammys with her sophomore studio album Laila’s Wisdom in the Best Rap Song and Best Rap Album category alongside some of the best and biggest artists out there like Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar. Powerful moment for the culture, for women in hip-hop. Her last creative effort and third studio album is the album Eve, released in 2019 which we’re taking a closer look at today.
Rapsodys’ album ‘EVE’, was ultimately one of the best, if not THE ultimate best rap album of the year 2019. Named after the bible’s original woman, shedding light on women who have served as an inspiration to the emcee, paying homage to the spirit of the Black woman in America and the world throughout history. A love letter.
In a Questlove Supreme Interview, Rapsody revealed that the idea for her third studio album was born during the summer of 2018. She was interviewed for Oxford by Lamar Wilson, who was writing a piece on North Carolina musicians. During the interview, he connected the dots between Rapsody and Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, both world-known African American singers from North Carolina, in their music also very soulful, lyrical storytellers, reflective on their times and what’s going on in the community. According to Rapsody, this has been sort of a revelation, as to what kind of family tree she's coming from, who she’s inspired and shaped by. Creatively, this gave her a way to show that there’s so many sides to her too and take the opportunity to fully celebrate the power of women excellence in all its’ glory. This album is a ride.
From a total of 23 songs and counting, she managed to tone the tracklist down to 15 essential tracks (plus one spoken word interlude), named after 15 powerful Black women, whose legacies are celebrated throughout the piece. Most of them highly recognizable by their first name alone.
Let's take a moment to listen together & unwrap them one by one:
The powerful voice of Nina Simone, legendary singer, songwriter, and activist, singing the haunting ‘Strange Fruit’ is sampled in the beat of this song, produced by Mark Byrd. ‘Nina’ is the commencement of the celebration that this album represents.
“I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill Bad to the bone and the grill You’d be dead wrong if looks killed I’m still on my spill in the spirit of L. Hill”
The second track on the album is named after Queen Latifah’s character in the classic 90s movie ‘Set It Off’. 9th Wonder sampled Phil Collins on the beat of this track, on which she recounts the troubles she had to go through to get where she’s at in the music industry.
“Bust my way through like Cleo with the ammo On my own terms, Imma take what’s mine Singin’ day after day, you can sing that line”
Eric G-produced song about having your own flava’ and sexy coming in all kinds of different shapes and sizes. Nod to the late R&B princess and actress Aaliyah Dana Haughton.
“When Aaliyah was alive, It was cool to be a tomboy, Tommy boy fly”
Fun collabo with the amazing rapper Leikeli47, who famously retains her anonymity by always concealing her face with a bandana / ski mask at all public appearances. Dollar-themed tune over Eric G’s beat, named by Oprah Winfrey, media executive, talk show host and philanthropist.
“Dollars, dollars, dollars, circulate (Circu’-circulate)”
“They gon’ make a sister act up Turn my attitude back up Count the money up, call the girls for backup”
Eric G production. Don’t stop, get it, get it. Ode to perseverance and Serena Williams, legendary American tennis player.
“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor That’s a quote I saw on Google, though”
Tribute to self-love and Black beauty, produced by Eric G. Named after Tyra Banks, American supermodel, TV personality, author, and businesswoman.
“Misty Copeland ten toes dancin’ around the odds Said I’d never make it, park the Audi in the garage Model of success, don’t change, be who you are”
“I can’t be no bird in a cage My bad, I don’t wanna wait, no We got the juice, we got the proof Mama always told me don’t waste your time”
This song is pure fire. Featuring GZA of the Wu Tang Clan and D’Angelo himself, whom you don’t see appearing on many features these days. Named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, sabre fencer and first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States in the Olympics. Flipped sample of the Liquid Swords joint from GZA’s critically acclaimed solo album, hence the sword symbolism is ultra strong in here. The songs production is courtesy of none other than 9th Wonder.
“It’s been a long time coming Since we had someone swarming with the Beez Birds and the Killa Beez ”
The visuals to this track are absolutely epic and also feature guest appearances of the legendary R&B singer Mary J. Blige and Roxanne Shante, one of the first female stars in hip hop history, member of the legendary Juice Crew. Both of them epically showing love and vibing out, since they’re not actually performing on the track recording.
Theme of injustice, loss of loved ones, senseless killings driven by racism and bigotry. Tribute to Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights activist and journalist, widow of civil rights activist Medger Evers. Produced by Eric G.
“Invisible veil, Coretta wore that, you could see Israel Martin Luther wasn’t a big enough deal? Trayvon Martin ain’t a big enough deal? I kid you not How many Martin’s we had shot? Pouring Remy Martin on the block”
Reyna Mays, known as Reyna Biddy, spoken word poet, author, and self-love enthusiast. Her beautiful poetry is lovingly sprinkled throughout the album.
“You hold the world together Thank you for your mercy You are the strongest form of human Black women”
Ode to Black beauty. Named by Iman, Somali fashion model, actress and entrepreneur. 9th Wonder production.
“Fine enough to cause a scene, cover a magazine Boss chicks around the world somewhere countin’ up the cream The pilot idea, the original Queen When you fly as this, you ain’t gotta worry ‘bout wings”
This rare collaboration, produced by Nottz, is a beautiful, no-chorus anthem. The one and only Queen Latifah, as an OG emcee that hasn’t been actively producing music for years now, has really blessed this unique track with some fire bars. Track is named by Hatshepsut, the longest reigning female pharaoh in Egypt.
“Queens come in all shapes and colors Though we sit on thrones we don’t look down on each other”
9th Wonder produced collaboration between J. Cole and Rapsody, ‘Sojourner’. Also appeared on Jamla Records 2018 album ‘Jamla is the Squad II’. Named after Sojourner Truth, women’s rights activist in the 1800’s.
“Swim good, enjoy the ride Every day I rise, thank God that I am alive Yeah, swim good, enjoy the ride Every day I rise, thank God that I am alive”
Hearing an excerpt from a recording of Tupac’s visit to Marcus Garvey’s school over Deniece Williams sample is giving me goosebumps. Shoutout to 9th Wonder. ‘Keep Ya Head Up’, Tupac’s ode to his activist mother Afeni Shakur is some of the most uplifting tunes out there. What a beautiful way to wrap up this journey with PJ Morton’s soothing voice on the chorus.
“I don’t know where I would be If you weren’t here with me If you don’t hear anybody else sayin’ Please know you’re appreciated” -PJ Morton
Midway through April 2020, the University of North Carolina and Ohio State University, have announced that they'll offer courses that will explore this album in greater depth, track by track, covering womanist philosophy, hip-hop history and popular culture through the lense of this release. “In this course, we will explore the critical womanist stance of Rapsodies 2016 release EVE, which features 16 songs titled with names of famous Black women throughout history. This course reads Rapsodies album as emerging from a greater tradition of womanist discourse dating back to the 19th century and the purpose of this course is to explore this history. Additionally students will look at hip-hop’s historical development to engage with albums from femme-identified hip-hoppers throughout history, using critical reading and listening skills.” - Tyler Bunzey, UNC
“One of the highest honors is to create art for the culture and have it taught in our educational institutions.” -Rapsody
Toni Morrison’s Houses of Women and Rapsody’s Eve is another course that will soon be taught at Ohio State University by Simone C. Drake. “Drake will trace the trope of Black women disrupting, interrupting and erupting into societies who conceive of them in ways both limited and limiting, into work of Hip Hop artist Rapsody and her album Eve (2019). Read together, Drake sees Black women’s cultural production as nothing short of a way to imagine spaces that, by centering Black women, offers lessons on what society can gain by locating Black women at the center of cultural discourse.”-Simone C. Drake
It seems that Rapsody is very well aware of the fact that anything that comes quick and fast, leaves and goes just as early. She's building a long-lasting career and a legacy, paying her dues on the way. Growing immensely with every one of her releases and continuing to push the boundaries with each carefully thought out step, proving that consistency is key. The path she has chosen is chasing what’s honest and real, the journey continues and we are here to support it every step of the way.
Nothing but love.